Forget Shakespeare’s saccharine line about it being such sweet sorrow, parting has been disappointing and deeply upsetting for folks forced out at the Boston Herald in recent months.
Bob McGovern, the Herald’s former legal columnist, gave voice to some of those frustrations this week with an essay skewering the tabloid’s former owner Pat Purcell and taking aim at the paper’s new corporate overlord, Digital First Media, for whittling the newsroom to almost nothing.
The piece, published online at Medium and shared widely on social media by current and former Herald staffers, hoists Purcell by his own petard with the headline: “If you’re looking for something sugar coated, buy a donut.” (You may recall that was the phrase used for years to advertise the scrappy Herald on a billboard along I-93.)
McGovern says Herald employees were blindsided by Purcell’s sudden declaration of bankruptcy last December. “No one knew Pat was going to drop the hammer,” he writes. “[Purcell] had not spoken to the newsroom about the state of affairs in years, and the only clues we had were small penny-pinching indicators.”
After Denver-based Digital First Media bought the paper, employees had to re-apply for their jobs. If the new owner wanted you back, McGovern writes, you got an e-mail. If not, “grab your stuff and don’t come back.”
“It was a dehumanizing way to handle a delicate situation,” he writes. “The sports desk kept empty boxes next to their keyboards in a joking-but-not-really way. People cried. Rumors fluttered around the newsroom as we all waited for ‘the email.’ ”
McGovern is under no illusion that the Herald is unique. The Denver Post, which is also owned by Digital First Media, recently slashed its newsroom by almost one-third, and the Salt Lake Tribune this week cut more than one-third of its news staff.
But that’s small consolation to folks like McGovern.
“At some point, a newspaper becomes a once-proud masthead riding on an empty vessel,” he writes. “I don’t think that’s good for the community, and I don’t think it’s good for journalism.”